Jason’s departure to the academy was a hopeful moment for his family and friends; hopeful that Jason

would do well, and hopeful that he would become the man that he was meant to be. Jason had a bittersweet send off ceremony with his friend Quintus, who would not be going to the academy with him. Quintus’s family had not been able to offer the support needed for the academy’s tuition, and with five children to provide for, there was not much hope that he would ever be able to go. Quintus planned to join the roman army when the draft came in place, though he would have much lower rank than Jason, and anyone else getting into the academy. He left, alone, his every belongings in a pack, and started the hike to Genua. The trail he took wasn’t bad, the land was smooth, and not too hard to walk on. Even though the climb was uphill, most of the time, the flow of energy Jason received from his emotions reinvigorated him in a way that a cool, bubbling brook couldn’t. He knew he only had one chance at this, and his family had sacrificed so much for him. He couldn’t be prouder of them. Jason had to sleep during the night, his hike would take at least fifteen more hours of walking, thirteen if he picked up the pace. The excitement of the coming events awoke him every time he tried to fall asleep. Jason got up, picked up his training gladius and held it in his hand, waiting for it to feel at home in his palm. Knowing that this practice would eventually happen, Jason had kept the fire alive. There wasn’t much light, but it didn’t matter to him. Training was just as nice in the dark of the night. He spent the next hour fighting the invisible target that was the air. He carried all of his blows in swift, blistering motions that would cut down anyone standing before him, the heavy sword sure to cause fatal damage. After his night training, Jason went back to the bed he had made out of pine boughs and a heavy blanket. The air was warm, he wouldn’t be cold during the night. As he closed his eyes, Jason could clearly imagine an image of himself, fighting against enemy troops, turning the tide of the battle by himself. Cut, slash, stab! The battlelust left him, and he started to think of happier thoughts, calmer ones. He could see his father’s face; wrinkled but happy, proud of what his son was about to become. With the image still fresh in his mind, Jason let darkness take over his thoughts, and fell asleep. The next day, Jason walked until he could see one of the villages bordering Genua. He wasn’t planning on travelling through it, because he would then lose valuable time. The Academy masters were waiting for all of the new attendees to arrive early the next morning, and going through the small village would lose time, causing him to be late the next day. When Jason got to the clearing, he could clearly see the town of Genua, bustling with early morning activity. From the hill where he stood, the town was an immense giant, waking up. The main gateway that lead to the center of Genua was just opening it’s doors. The path would then lead on to several walkways, where people could buy all sort of useful things. There were blacksmiths, armorers, shops, and hawker stalls. The town was full of noises and smells, bombarding Jason with every turn he took. Knowing that he wouldn’t have to be at the Academy until the next morning, Jason resigned himself to the nearest, and the cheapest, inn. The Jolly Bear. A grubby, smelly, filthy, and absolutely worst tavern in the town. A tavern that would house Jason for a night because it was the only one he could afford, with the majority of the family’s income going to his education at the academy.

The door creeped slowly as entered the inn. Unlike the rest of the town, this wasn’t a nice place to be in; fetid air moved around the room freely, as there were nothing to block it. Tables were made of rotted wood, and the tacky chairs seemed as if they would break at any moment. There were no greater decorations then a cracked mirror, hanging from a single nail, with an unusual amount of slime drooling from it. The innkeeper himself wasn’t in the building, but a serving girl was waiting at the bar, not even looking up when Jason entered. He cleared his throat, and received a stare from the girl. “Umm...Hello, I would like to have a room for the night.” he said She noticed Jason’s face and gave him a mischevious grin. A life of serving drinks to sweaty old men was tiring and repulsive, and the stranger standing in front of her was quite handsome. “That will be three setersis, honey.” Jason took out a leather satchel from his belt and produced three small coins. The woman eyed the coins, and plucked them one by one, right out of his hand. “Your room is right over there,” she said pointing at one of the few rooms, “Do you want dinner?” Jason looked around, the surroundings made him want to run away from the place and never come back. Yet, he had no choice. He hadn’t brought a meal for the night, so he had to eat in the inn. “Sure, what do you serve?” “Stew and beer.” “All right,” Jason hesitated, “I would like the stew, and just a mug of beer.” “Your meal will be ready in a couple of minutes.” she said, before sauntering off to the grimy kitchen. On that notice, Jason walked to his new room. The sight wasn’t one to appreciate. The bed was inhabited by an ecosystem of insects, the sheets had holes in them, the furniture was rotten and the walls had cracks so big you could see in the other room. Jason picked up a broom from one of the corners and started attacking the insects. These conditions were those of a cheap inn, if he wanted a better room, the nicer ones were triple of what he had in his money pouch. After the insects had fled from his bed, Jason lied down, disgusted by the thought of the insects creeping into his room during the night. But he had to sleep here, and it would be a small price to pay if he wanted to be at the Academy in time. Jason waited, lying on his bed, for dinner to be served. “Hey you over there!”, the woman from the inn called, “Dinner is ready!”

Preparing himself for what would probably be the worst meal of his life, Jason followed the sound of the woman’s voice. He sat down in, what he believed was the nicest looking chair in the inn, and looked at what sat in front of him. Naming it a meal would be inappropriate, for Jason, these were scraps taken out of a garbage the refuse that even rats wouldn’t touch. The meat that swam in the liquid stew was an unnatural gray with signs of decomposition, the soup lacked flavor and was devoid of even a consistency, and the small number of vegetables present in the stew were still raw. The tankard of beer had small decaying crumbs of cork floating in it, and there was what looked to be blood stains on the rim. “Enjoy.” the woman said. Jason hoped she would walk away, but she didn’t, she just stood her ground. Jason looked at her and asked. “Yes?” “Oh.” she turned to meet Jason’s eyes, “Nothing, I was just wondering if you would like any company tonight?” He knew the meaning behind her words. Roman inns were known for the services they offered. Women would sell themselves to the nearest stranger who were willing to spend a coin. But the thought of being closer to her than he already was made Jason’s stomach churn. “No, thank you.” he said, “I think I’ll just eat now.” However, the woman didn’t listen to Jason’s response and tried to get closer to him, reaching for his money bag. Jason knew that money was rare for some, but he couldn’t allow this to happen to him. Nothing could distract him from his quest. He got up, and jumped away from the serving girl. His gladius made a faint slithering sound as he took it out of its scabbard. The blade gleamed in the tavern’s low light, and he lifted the point towards the woman’s face. “Get away from me.” His voice came low and threatening, daring her to make a move. Seeing the blade, the desperate woman backed a few steps from Jason. “Come on, go away.” The moment she got into the next room, Jason put his sword back home in his scabbard. He sighed. He wasn’t even at the Academy yet, and he already had to take out his gladius. Jason took a peek out the window, it was already dark outside. He decided to go to sleep without eating. Being hungry is better than being sick, he convinced himself, looking at what was on his table. He forced himself to sleep, knowing that the next day was going to be a great event in his life. He had to be at his best.

The next morning, Jason woke up, the sun was barely rising. As an infant, his father had made it a routine for him to wake up at the break of dawn. For Jason it had become a way of life. He dressed up, tied his sandals, and took with him everything he had brought to the inn. Fortunately, the serving woman wasn’t awake yet. Jason was honest, so he left on the counter enough money to pay back the meal he hadn’t touched the previous night. Jason opened the door, and smelled the fresh outside air. The town that looked lively the day before, seemed even happier. There were more people on the streets than Jason could count, yet he spotted only a few guards in the multitude of people. Merchants yelled at their potential customers, bragging about their prices, and how their product was the best in town. This was a life Jason had never known. Apua was known for it’s welcoming calm, the peaceful countryside, and the kind and gentle people. Unlike Genua, whose perpetual barrage of sound made it difficult to think, and yet the people here seemed to enjoy it. While ignoring the unceasing shoving from passers by, Jason walked steadily towards the Academy. He was held up by the morning traffic of traders and merchants, and the large entourages that came through Genua so often, the presence of Roman authority was well known here. Occasionally, he had to ask directions due to the confusing paths and back alleys that were so common in the area . Even so, Jason found his way, though took him much longer than he had expected. He forgot all all the worries when the walls of the Academy shadowed his being, the massive dark swathes of cool reaching all the way to the gate, he stood amazed at the grandeur of the building. Compared to the structural wonder that was the Academy, Jason was but a mere insect. Nothing he had witnessed in his lifetime could ever compare to the majestic building. A multitude of stoic marble columns stood tall to support the enormous veranda, with ornate decorations on every single surface. There were mosaics of battles and the legions fighting Rome’s enemies, murals of heroic deeds of men in battle, and stone statues of famous generals. The oversized wooden doors studded with iron stood sentinel behind two fully armored soldiers, both wielding large spears in their right hands, and a typical rectangular roman shield to protect their left. Their helmets guarded their cheeks and jaws, and as Jason looked closer, he could see that their eyes were fixated on him. Jason slowly advanced, only to be stopped by a guard’s spear, the steel point so close to his eyes that Jason’s eyelashes would be cut if he blinked. He backed up momentarily, and waited for the guards to speak. The one on his left stated, “Only members may pass through these gates.” The other guard then said, “What is your name?” while motioning for a scribe to come forward, carrying a thick, metal bound ledger. “Jason Aurelius Cassius, sir, from Apua.” The scribe thoughtfully echoed, “From Apua”, and wondered why the name was familiar. He flipped through the book until he found the student section. When he came to Jason’s name, he suddenly remembered where he had heard about the town. Apua was the place where Leonus

Cassius had retired. Cassius was a only a centurion, but his name was known throughout the legions for his valiant defense of Fort Aquilex when the commanding officer was killed. This boy must be his son, hopefully commanding the same skill that his father had at his age. The scribe motioned for the guards to open the doors, “Very well. Please refer to the main hall. Although I am not sure they will be happy of your tardiness.” Jason entered the Academy, and followed the path leading towards the center of the campus. He looked around curiously, the place was almost ghostly, with no one around. The stark, majestic buildings looming above him were completely empty, devoid of life. He then spotted a door, smaller than the entrance, yet still bigger than a man, set into what Jason through to be the biggest building he had seen in his life . He hurried to it and pushed it open. Unfortunately, the creaking noise produced by the door alerted every soul inside the main hall that someone had come late. Heads turned and the orator speaking paused to look at the new student. An embarrassed Jason closed the doors behind him and found a place to stand in the crowd of strangers. A short, stocky man, brown-haired with dark eyes, well built and handsome, with a scabbard hanging at his side, and a beard that covered almost his entire mouth, continued his speech. He cleared his throat, “As I was saying earlier, welcome to the Genua Military Academy. I am Fabio, one of the weapons instructors, and I will serve as a guide for our first-year students. This is my assistant, Argus. After I am finished talking, he will inform of the location of your chambers, eating halls, and the gear vaults. Each room will house four students, this means you will be living in groups of four for the rest of the year. The four in an unit are partnered with an adjoining unit of four, making your contubernium. If you need any other information, feel free to bother Argus. Work well, work hard, and work like you’ve never worked before, because this is the Academy. I won’t wish any of you luck, because luck will not help you here.” His last words surprised Jason, though he let out a small grin. Fabio was a strict taskmaster, and Jason knew that Fabio would not let any person work to anything less than their best, just like his father. The person named Argus took Fabio’s place and opened a parchment. He wasn’t any Fabio, his shaggy features were rather ape-like, and he acted more like a slave than an assistant. He clumsily handled the parchment, and began stuttering. “Hello, I ... I am Argus, Plea ...Please listen closely for your names. The following students will be housed in the northeast res...residences of the Academy, Ea...Eagle House. Chamber one: Felix, Livius, Junius, and...and Nerva Marinus,” he said, specifying the last names of students who shared the same name with others. The list of students went on and on, passing houses Horse, Bull, Lion, Wolf, Camel, Bee, and Salamander. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, Jason was called. “Dragon House: Jason Cassius, Sabinus Fulvius, Pontius, and Tacitus, sec..second group,” Argus called, announcing the second part of the contubernium Jason was assigned to, the last group of the lot. When he heard Dragon House, Jason’s heart leaped. His father had gone to the Dragon House. It was in the northernmost part of the Academy, an area that contained the sword fighting halls, and was known for the talent that it produced. The prestigious house had given rise to many famous generals, senators, and Academy instructors.

“Hall dismissed!” Rang a strong clear voice from the present teacher assembly, informing the students that it was time to report to their rooms. As the throng of students dispersed like a school of minnows, Jason caught up to his group, already heading towards their house. The three students in his group, as he saw as soon as he caught up, were a sorry lot. A tall, pale, skinny boy who could barely take a stride without stumbling, one about Jason’s size who didn’t look Roman, and another one who seemed to be ten, a short boy without height, nor weight, nor any dimension in between. Resigning himself to the new face of Dragon House, or at least half of it; the other group of four was nowhere in sight, he raised his hand in greeting to the trio, and introduced himself. After exchanging introductions, Jason found that Pontius was the tall boy, Sabinus was the foreigner, Greek, to be precise, and Tacitus was the short, boyish one. The group was friendly, eager, and happy to accommodate for Jack, who had not heard the beginning of the speech. “You see, the Academy wants us to bond, because we’ll be in our contubernium with the other Dragon House group for quite a while,” explained Tacitus in a high voice, “The four of us will have to stick together for the better part of twenty years. Unless of course, one of us gets promoted to centurion. Right Pontius?” Tacitus's remark was sarcastic, in a cheery sort of way. “Pontius dreams of honor and glory, but he has the agility of a drunken bear!” Tacitus laughed and Jason laughed with him, then Pontius joined in too. “Your mouth is the biggest thing you have, except maybe your ego!” Countered Pontius, and the three of them chuckled again. Through the light of the situation, Jason noticed that Sabinus hadn’t said single thing the whole time, and asked Tacitus about him. “Oh, he’s just a little depressed, I heard his older brother went missing. Their fort was attacked by mercenaries. Hasn’t heard from him in weeks.” Jason looked back at Sabinus. He does look sad, Jason thought, maybe I can go cheer him up. He walked over to where his teammate stood, and started. “Sabinus?” the boy lifted his head, “I am Jason, Jason Cassius. I heard about your brother. I know it’s tragic, but we’re now a team. So if you need anything, just ask.” Sabinus forced a smile, “Thank you.” His reply came out gritted, a cautious reply of someone shut out from the world. “Anytime, my friend.” Jason said. Just as they had finished their conversation, a new face came in. A heavy man, dressed in fine military clothing, carrying a small scabbard on his side. It was almost impossible to miss the huge red dragon, coiled around his tunic, bright scales glittering on his chest. His head was free of hair, with a distinguished scar haunted his right cheek. He carried in his hands a small wax tablet. He then asked, “Is everyone here in the Dragon house?” The four students nodded. The stranger continued, “My name is Lucius Calvus Aelius. I am in charge of the Dragon second contubernium, and from this point on you will follow my orders. My counterpart, Marcus, will be

teaching the other half of the second Dragon contubernium, and others will teach the first. Now, everyone introduce yourself. We will start with you.” Tacitus, seeing that his new master’s eyes were upon him, began presenting himself in a rather loud voice. “Tacitus Claudius Bacchus, from Genua sir!” Lucius looked closely at his tablet, and nodded. “Next.” he said. Sabinus and Pontius introduced themselves, Jason’s turn was next. “Jason Aurelius Cassius, sir. From Apua. Lucius lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “Cassius? Are you by any chance related to Leonus Cassius?” he questioned Jason. “Leonus Cassius is my father, sir” Jason answered. “Your father? Cassius? That old dog, he had a son!” Exclaimed Lucius, eyebrows high in disbelief, “No offence to you, of course.” He added apologetically. “I remember back in the day, when Cassius and I were centurions. Your father’s a good man, Jason.” Lucius told him, “I’m sure you’ll be too.” Jason nodded solemnly and stepped into attention, the mid-morning light Lucius turned to face the four students in his half-contubernium and boomed, “From now on you become men, you will face your worst nightmares and destroy them. The Academy has no place for cowards, Rome has no place for cowards. You will be the finest fighting force the world has ever seen, and you will uphold and further the honor and glory of the Roman Empire! Lucius stopped for breath, his eyes burning with fervor, “Your year of training commences now, the year where you will be shaped and tempered to bring down the sword of Rome upon our enemies! Lucius paused, his speech holding his unit spellbound. “Boys, storytime’s over.”

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